The mid-April closure of Canadian North’s cargo office in Iqaluit has significantly slowed down the sale of Pangnirtung’s fish.

As of June 24, there were approximately 232,000 pounds of fish remaining in the plant from turbot season. In a typical year, Cumberland Sound Fisheries, owned locally, is usually able to sell all of its products by the end of April.

“Right now we’re still way behind in shipping our products out of Pang,” said Peter Kilabuk, chairman of Cumberland Sound Fisheries. “We started (fishing) in January, and when we called off the fisheries due to unsafe conditions and no more freezer space, we had landed about 687,000 pounds of turbot.”

Of that total, the organization shipped out about 455,000 pounds. However, the 232,000 remaining pounds of fish are still sitting in freezers belonging to Pangnirtung Fisheries, which processes the fish, and in which Cumberland Sound Fisheries shareholders hold a majority stake.

“We can only pray our freezers stay operating. Another thing too is it costs quite a lot to keep those freezers running for the plant. It has been a very different year, this year,” said Kilabuk.

On April 27, Canadian North shortened its Iqaluit cargo hours in response to impacts of the pandemic and after one of its Iqaluit-based employees tested positive for the virus.

The airline said at the time there may be temporary delays or disruptions in processing cargo shipments to and from Iqaluit, with the airline prioritizing food, medical supplies and other essential goods.

Because the capital is a travel hub for the Qikiqtani region, there have been effects from the COVID delays that the communities are still dealing with.

Being unable to distribute the stockpile of fish and making sure it doesn’t spoil “has caused us a lot of headaches this year,” Kilabuk said. “We weren’t able to ship anything for quite a long period of time, which ultimately led us to not being able to continue with our fisheries operations towards the end of the fishing season… we still had over 50,000 pounds of quota we didn’t get to fish.”

The problems Cumberland Sound Fisheries is facing largely relate to transportation woes. The longer the fish sit, the more the value of the turbot will drop. With a European Union-certified fish plant that abides by stricter regulations and rules, Kilabuk says there’s added pressure because the fishery seeks to sell “top-quality” products.

“If (Canadian North) is able to fly our fish products out, it would eliminate our biggest problem in the plant,” Kilabuk says. “We’ve had a lot of people working on getting this product into Pang (with our) licensed fishermen and women, and we have a good number of staff — dedicated staff — that of course came to work to produce top-quality products and it’s unfortunate that it just ends up sitting in our freezer space.”

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